Saturday, January 18, 2014

Video: Dr. Auschlander Tries Medical Marijuana

St. Elsewhere broke ground with this story about using medical marijuana to treat chemotherapy symptoms in 1984.

Dr. Daniel Auschlander (Norman Lloyd) sees "what all the
fuss is" about cannabis.
This is one of the many reasons Norman Lloyd is awesome--his comedic chops and pathos in this episode from February 3, 1984. His character, Dr. Daniel Auschlander, fights a battle with liver cancer throughout the entire run of St. Elsewhere. He was originally slated to die off after four episodes, but Lloyd proved to be too good to jettison so early, so his cancer went into what Lloyd has described as "the longest remission in television history".

Auschlander's recurrent chemo cycles affect his ability to do his job, and by the middle of season two, he's feeling particularly beaten. In the season's twelfth episode, "Hearing", his oncologist, Dr. Morton Chegley (Arthur Taxier), suggests several options for relieving his patient's pain, and laments that he is not legally permitted to prescribe THC caplets, which, he hears, are quite effective.

Auschlander is not warm to the idea of circumventing the law, but his symptoms push him to take action. He spots Dr. Wayne Fiscus (Howie Mandel) in the cafeteria, and asks if the young doctor might be able to point him in the right direction. Wayne, delighted by the notion of the septuagenarian taking a walk on the wild side, has no luck with his old connection, but enlists the help of orderly Luther Hawkins (Eric Laneuville), to whom Wayne must admit he approached because he assumed that an African-American ghetto-dweller would be able to score some dope.

His assumption was correct, and soon after, Fiscus and Hawkins are supervising the elderly experimenter on a trip to a convenience store, to find the ideal munchies for the occasion. They have some serious explaining to do to a skeptical police officer when it becomes clear that the test subject can't handle his smoke.

The next day, Dr. Auschlander confides to Dr. Fiscus that the whole experience--the undignified behaviour, the night of sleep lost to hallucinations, and the ill effects of a junk-food-munchie-binge--was not worth repeating, and that he'll endure his chemo symptoms without chemical enhancement.

Enjoy the clip!

  • I don't know if this was the first "medical marijuana" storyline on network television, but it certainly brought up the issue long before there was such a thing as the "medical marijuana industry".
  • A lot of TV shows have done the "pot" episode, where the joke is that the characters get high and act stupid. For me, this is one of the better ones. Credit that to the writers (Mark Tinker, John Masius, Steve Bello, Robert Daniels), director Charles Braverman, and, of course, the great Norman Lloyd.
  • When the police officer asks Dr. Auschlander for "his story", Auschlander relates that when he was a boy, his father used to take him to the Metropolitan Opera House. This is the same story, almost word for word, that he tells Dr. Westphall at the end of the series' third episode, "Down's Syndrome".

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